Alexis Llanos and his family fled Venezuela for Colombia five years ago, Escape death threats and political persecution.They also failed to achieve stability there and decided to cross the dangerous Darien River Panamanian jungle Illegal crossing of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Their plans had been set for August 2023, when a friend told them about a new U.S. government program that would allow them to arrive legally. So they decided to wait, and it worked.
Llanos, his partner Diomaris Barbosa and their children, ages 7 and 3, arrived in Florida after four months of examinations, including medical exams and multiple interviews with U.N. agencies and U.S. officials.
“This was a rare opportunity, a miracle God had in store for me.” Lanos, 27, said in a recent interview with the agency Associated Press. “I feel blessed, grateful… I don’t want to take the chance that if something happens to them because of me, I won’t forgive myself,” he said.
The Lannos are among the first families to arrive legally in the United States through a new program from President Joe Biden’s administration called the Office of Safe Mobility, which Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Ecuador.
The goal is to speed up the refugee process so that migrants don’t have to pay people smugglers on the dangerous journey through many countries before reaching the Mexican-U.S. border, which has a history of illegal crossings. So far, about 3,000 refugees have arrived in the United States through the program, 9,000 of whom have been approved.
However, the impact on illegal border crossings has been minimal. In December, more than 10,000 immigrants were arrested every day for several days. In cities such as Chicago, New York and Denver, Migrants without work permits sleep in police halls and airports.
The U.S.-Mexico border issue is at the center of the 2024 presidential campaign, and Republican opposition to Biden’s immigration policies has been strongly criticized.
Republicans are demanding stricter policies that would drastically reduce asylum protections, among other things, and are pushing the issue through negotiations in exchange for Biden’s demand for tens of millions of dollars in additional aid to Ukraine.
The plan comes as the administration seeks to curb migrants from illegally crossing the border and Congress refuses to debate immigration law reform. Migrants, especially family migrants, can still reach the U.S. border and seek asylum. There, they are appointed to an immigration court and must prove they are eligible to stay in the country. Delays are so long that immigrants end up waiting years for a court date. In the meantime, they remain in limbo, wondering whether they will be able to obtain any type of legal status.
They arrived as refugees through the Safe Mobility Initiative and had met certain requirements and were authorized Live and work in the United States. The process usually takes years, but with this program, it can be completed in just a few months.
Some immigration advocates applauded the move but warned it should not replace the asylum system.
“It’s extremely important that these pathways exist now. They will provide safety for many people who would otherwise not have access to legal pathways,” said Hannah Flamm, policy adviser for the Refugee Assistance Project. But he warned: “Improving refugee resettlement opportunities cannot come at the expense of the rights of asylum seekers at the border.”
In this plan, the government collaborates with two United Nations organizations: the refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
To register, immigrants must first answer a series of questions online on the initiative’s website. After several eligibility screenings, their cases are forwarded to the United Nations agency, which conducts a first interview and then sends the documents to the U.S. government, which decides whether to approve them. Even if interested persons do not meet the requirements to arrive as refugees, authorities can assess whether they can arrive under other temporary legal programs.
“This process facilitates the process for refugees and reduces time,” said Luis Fernando Godinho Santos, spokesman for the United Nations Refugee Agency for the Americas. “It saves people from having to make these movements throughout the region and allows many of them to access these legal routes from their host countries.”
Llanos was informed of the program’s existence by Venezuelan Jefferson Castro, who also signed an agreement to legally immigrate to the United States from Colombia. He has remained in Colombia since leaving Venezuela in 2018 due to police threats.
After several interviews with U.N. officials, he took a nine-hour bus ride from Medellin arrive bogota Join his wife and two children, ages 8 and 4, for more interviews with U.S. officials, medical exams and cultural immersion sessions.
They stayed in a hotel in Bogota for at least nine days before eventually learning that three other families traveling with them from Medellin had been approved. Castro thought they would be approved, too, and sold refrigerators, beds and the motorcycle he used to make door-to-door deliveries. But they spent weeks in limbo without any news about the progress of the case.
“I lost my job, I had no money, I had no answers,” Castro, 28, said in a recent phone interview with El Pais. Associated Press From Medellin.
At the end of December, after about three months of not hearing anything, he finally received an email informing him that their application had been approved. However, they have one hurdle to overcome: They asked him to apply for a passport for his Colombian daughter, and he promised he didn’t have $100 to pay for it.
“How can I have faith without working? How can I get a passport if I don’t have money?” Castro asked. “I do not know what to do”.
Some immigration activists say the program can be confusing, lacks information and is inaccessible to most immigrants.For example, in Colombia, there are only cuban, Haitian and Venezuelan People who were in the country on or before June 11.
Still, it’s a good start. Families approved to arrive in the United States as refugees receive help from an NGO that assists them in resettling in the United States.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction to provide a mechanism for people to safely seek asylum rather than rely on coyotes and make the dangerous journey to the U.S. border from anywhere,” he said. At Lutheran Church on Immigration and Refugees Service Office.
Like the Janos family, Venezuelan Adanny Hurtado and his family arrived in October. They live in a two-bedroom house in Houston, Texas, with rent paid by an NGO that also helps them with food and work permit procedures.
Hurtado already worked at Walmart as a welder, his wife worked as a customer assistant, and their two children, ages 5 and 9, were in public school.
“I still can’t believe it, I don’t think it’s real, sometimes I stop, I can’t believe I’m in America” said Hurtado, 29. “Traveling safely is God’s hand extended to me. “
Santos warned, however, that the plan was not a final solution or a replacement for the asylum system, but should be part of a broader response to the growing immigration problem: 18.4 million displaced people in the American continentaccording to a 2023 report by the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Llanos and his family spent weeks in uncertainty in Colombia, not knowing whether they would be eligible to arrive in the United States legally. They learned the news after a final interview in a hotel in Bogota. However, the waiting time is less than others.
“We didn’t know the answer until the last day,” Lanos said. The family sold their property and, with help from Lutheran Immigrant Services, came to Lehigh Acres, a small town in the Fort Myers area about 225 miles northwest of Miami. kilometers.
They now live in a two-bedroom house on a quiet street, where they have made new friends. Lutheran Services is helping them with the medical exams and paperwork needed to become legal residents, including enrolling their oldest daughter in school. Now they don’t have to worry about money because they also pay rent and put food on the table.
They communicated through a mobile phone translator with the owner of the house, who had offered Llanos a job on a construction site. In a few months, when they’re fully settled, they’ll have to start paying $3,000 for airfare for three years.